EU’s chief Brexit negotiator says Irish border issue could sink whole deal

21 October, 2018, 05:12 | Author: Wade Massey
  • There are reports Michel Barnier would be open to extending the Brexit period

British prime minister Theresa May Wednesday evening (17 October) told European Union leaders she is ready to consider extending the Brexit transition period to three years.

"The point is, that this is not expected to be used, because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020", May said.

"That bilateral relation contains elements such as taxes, environmental cooperation, security, and the movement of workers between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar".

"I'm convinced a deal is necessary, I'm still not sure we'll get one", he said.

A Brussels summit wrapped up without progress after British Prime Minister Theresa May offered no new proposals, beyond suggesting she could accept a longer transition period after Brexit.

British Euro-skeptics oppose Britain remaining in a customs union with the European Union, which is May's ultimate goal, because they say it would limit Britain's ability to strike trade deals around the world and force it to abide by rules it will have no power to shape.

The possibility that May will agree to a longer transition period has prompted renewed Conservative rebel calls for her to go.

The idea of the further extension of the transition period has also displeased many senior Conservatives and the supporters of a hard Brexit.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, the prime minister's de facto deputy, admitted the cost of extending the transition period would have to be "teased out" during negotiations.

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At a press conference in Brussels, Mrs May said an extension to the transition period "could be a further solution to this issue of the backstop in Northern Ireland".

At the close of the EU Council summit, Theresa May said Brexit talks "were always going to be tough" and insisted a deal could still be reached.

"Theresa May must now act in the national interest, not her party interest, and break the deadlock by delivering a deal that protects jobs and living standards". "I remain confident of a good outcome", she told the leaders, according to a British official.

The block in negotiations remains the EU backstop, the "safety net" that would leave Northern Ireland within the European customs union if no trade deal can be reached between London and Brussels.

May's backstop proposal centres on a plan to create a temporary customs arrangement between the European Union and the whole of Britain, including Northern Ireland.

The UK has signed up to the principle of agreeing an Irish border "backstop" - an insurance policy created to prevent the need for customs checks - in case there is a gap between the transition period and the future permanent relationship coming into force.

After talks stalled over the weekend, one of the bloc's negotiators told diplomats that Brussels had proposed extending the transition by a year to make its proposal for an Irish backstop - already ruled out by Britain - more palatable.

On Thursday. the plan received condemnation from members of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party - whose support the government needs in key votes - saying it would not change the "fundamental problem" with the EU's backstop plan.

But May was under attack from across Britain's political spectrum after saying she's considering a European Union proposal that would keep the United Kingdom bound to the bloc's rules for more than two years after it leaves on March 29.

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